Garden News Blog

Nastiest. Mushroom. Ever.

An alarming fungus is popping up quick
Called elegant stinkhorn or the devil’s dipstick

As distasteful to the nose as it is to the eyes
Its odor’s designed to attract pesky flies

Insects feed on the slimy stalk
And spread its spores around the block

A member of family Phallaceae and Mutinus genus
Most would agree that it looks like a…


It’s that time of year again. The air is crisp, the leaves are beginning to turn, and gardeners and park visitors all over Brooklyn are gasping in horror at the shockingly erect—and putrid smelling—stalks poking out of the mulch. Mutinus elegans, a very distinctive species of mushroom, is showing up in shady, damp mulch and compost piles in parks, gardens, and backyards. This phallic fungus, known as the elegant stinkhorn, dog stinkhorn, or devil’s dipstick, is stinky for a reason. Its smell is important for its unusual means of distributing spores.

Unlike typical mushrooms, which depend on wind to distribute their spores, the stinkhorn uses insects. After sprouting from an egglike bulb, the orange or red stalks produce a slimy, carrion-scented spore coating near the tip. Flies are attracted to the scent, and after feeding on it, they fly off and dispense the spores wherever they land. Should your garden be afflicted with stinkhorns, take comfort in the fact that their reign is pretty short-lived. They’re not poisonous, so you can just let them be, and those spongy, hollow stalks will shrivel a day or two after their quick growth spurt.

Today, the appearance of Mutinus elegans elicits a chuckle, but in the Victorian era, their erect shoots could be seriously distressing to chaste and honorable ladies. The story goes that Charles Darwin’s eldest daughter, Etty, was openly combative toward the fungi. Armed with a spear, she would roam the woods sniffing out the offensive stalks. As recalled by her niece, she would find one and “poke his putrid carcass into her basket.” Then, after cleansing the territory, she would secretly burn the fungi in order to protect “the morals of the maids.”

Etty would probably not appreciate Cornell University’s time-lapse video of a stinkhorn’s growth and decay, but you might!

More: Learn to identify the plants you pull, and find out more about each one in our Weed of the Month series.

series.

Hannah Singer is a science intern at BBG.

    Discussion

  • David October 6, 2017

    Found one here in Holtsville, New York. First time seeing it. Has strange smell.

  • Darla October 5, 2017

    I have these growing under my tomato plants…kinda freaky looking.

  • Denise September 28, 2017

    I had never seen these before this year. Hate them. I don’t like the way they look, for sure, and once they get a slimy head on them the biting flies come. I have tried to dig up the spongy white balls from the ground before they can grow into their orange phallic mushroom. I filled a 5 gallon bucket twice one day digging up the balls underneath the mushroom. I might try the salt.

  • Debbie September 26, 2017

    I live in Henrico,Va. This is the first time they have came up in my mulch around the play area. Was alarmed at first…glad they are not poisonous.

  • Tabu September 24, 2017

    How to remove them?

  • Linda Bullock September 18, 2017

    Have several of these growing in the mulch under a large pine in our yard. They don’t last long but are definitely gross, and who wants anything that attracts flies anyway! Yuck.

  • B. September 17, 2017

    Just had one of these pop up in my mulch under a cherry tree in Essex County, NJ. First time I’ve ever seen one.

  • Karen Wright September 15, 2017

    Quite a few popped up in thru the mulch in front of our home (Demarest, Bergen County, NJ). It’s south facing so gets a lot of sun. They were shriveled up the next day. Wish I could post pics.

  • Sharon A. Ward September 15, 2017

    These little fellows have been growing in my garden for years, but this year there were more than ever—must be all the rain we got?

  • Rachel Tarantino September 15, 2017

    First time I ever saw one, Wednesday 09-13-17, in Wading River, NY, growing under a bush. No smell but still had the ick factor!

  • rick September 11, 2017

    Found these in the mulch here in southwest Missouri…never seen them before. Are they edible??

  • Wendy September 8, 2017

    I found two in the mulch in an area where there is a big pine tree. They are not under it but near it. Weirdest things I’ve ever seen.

  • Juliette Dauterive September 5, 2017

    I have a hypothesis that these are associated with pine trees, even though they have a soil substrate. Anyone feel like taking note if there are any pines around your finds?

  • Frank Giordano August 30, 2017

    Had never seen one of these before today, when I happened across one in the understory near in my yard here in Connecticut. Many new and unusual things growing this year…

  • Sue August 11, 2017

    Just found these for the first time in a couple of mulched areas around my ornamental grasses here in Randolph, Massachusetts. Quite the conversation starter! As a biology teacher I truly appreciate them.

  • Sarah Mayo July 27, 2017

    Found a few of these by the playground at the daycare I work at, in Ontario, New York.

  • Mona July 26, 2017

    I saw them for the first time a couple of weeks ago and just dug it up and discarded but ITS BACK! Thanks for the article because the first ones were past the slimy top phase, but I see it now. What’s the salt treatment? I do not like the look of these things :(

  • Edie G. July 24, 2017

    I just encountered my first stinkhorn after mowing the lawn. It was hard to miss, a bright orange, obscene looking little thing among all that green. Glad to know it’s not a being from another planet.

  • Lew July 15, 2017

    I found a bunch of these “stink horns” in my mulch today, July 16, 2017, in Nassau County, Long Island.

  • Denise October 25, 2016

    If you don’t want mushrooms to grow, try applying lime to the soil. Don’t use poisons or salt.

  • Julie October 20, 2016

    Sprinkled baking soda on them and they’re gone…but so in the grass surrounding them. Baking soda will kill weeds, grass, fungus, etc.

  • Gramma October 4, 2016

    They are just mushrooms and won’t hurt anything. People walking past our place saw them and left laughing.

  • Rusty October 2, 2016

    We had these pop up around a cottonwood tree we had to cut down. Interesting to watch.They lasted about 1 week.

  • Gail B September 17, 2016

    Just found these in my garden and am glad they are not poisonous.
    Sort of a “cute” addition and lots better than the usual white or beige mushrooms I usually find this time of year in Lenexa, Kansas.

  • Shannon September 17, 2016

    These are coming up in the front yard in the mulch. Had no clue what the were. We will be getting rid of them. I don’t like the looks of them.

  • Kat September 5, 2016

    I live in Columbus, Ohio, and just found these in my garden and it’s sept.!

  • Dianna September 1, 2016

    I have two growing in my flower bed and it makes me Happy!! This is the first time I laid eyes on them. They are beautiful and hope that they come back every year! They really play into my love of Halloween! ♥

  • butterfly queen July 24, 2016

    No need to herbicide or salt. These are only creepy looking and not harming the environment, whereas herbicide and “salting the earth” are surely problems.

  • Linda June 30, 2016

    I kept getting these in my yard - stinky buggers they are. I tried getting rid of them by digging them up and when that didn’t work tried using a broad spectrum herbicide (which didn’t work either). I finally resorted to salting the spot where they were growing: that kills them and I don’t have them returning to those spots. If they were on my property I did the salt treatment immediately. I haven’t seen one on my yard or a neighbor’s yard since I used the salt treatment, probably for more than five or six years now.

  • Judith Alkhas May 3, 2016

    Being 74, I felt honored to view this most unusual fungus for the first time in my life. I thought someone had dropped a bag of carrots under my roses.

  • Emil Fischer July 7, 2015

    This fungus gave my wife and I a chuckle when we first saw them. At times though, you can’t even tell what it is with all the flies covering them.

     

  • Blanca Oliveras December 1, 2014

    My schitzu dogs are eating them in my backyard. Are elegant stinkhorns toxic to dogs?

  • sarah October 28, 2014

    I am genuinely surprised by the lack of appreciation for stinkhorns.  I delight in them, and after years of exposure to the “aroma,” I really like it: It’s fresh, unusual, not at all putrid. To my senses, it’s really not offensive.

  • Donald September 27, 2014

    We have been seeing these in the mulch; had five pop up this morning. Thanks for the info.

  • eleanor davis May 11, 2013

    I have white mushrooms coming up. Will these also just disappear in a day or two? If not, what can I do to rid my garden of them?

  • Steven N. Severinghaus October 19, 2012

    I’m glad to see a post about these fascinating little things. I have been seeing them in various states of growth and decay among the leaf debris and mulch around BBG for the last couple of weeks:
    Flickr pics

Submit a Comment

Please keep your comments relevant to this article. Comments are moderated and will be posted after BBG staff review. Your email address is required; it will not be displayed, but may be needed to confirm your comments.

Image, top of page:
Elegant Stinkhorn
Mutinus elegans, a very distinctive species of mushroom, is showing up in shady, damp mulch and compost piles in parks, gardens, and backyards. Photo by Kathryn Glass.